IPL 2021 KKR team preview: Can the Knights tell a new tale?

IPL 2021: Knights will play in Chennai, Mumbai, Ahmedabad and Bengaluru and would be hoping to start the tournament on a positive note.

Bangladesh all-rounder Shakib-Al Hasan’s presence will be a huge boost for Kolkata Knight Riders.   -  Vivek Bendre

Kolkata Knight Riders has been a side with an enviable list of all-rounders in its ranks. But over the last couple of seasons, the franchise failed to reach the playoffs of the Indian Premier League — raising questions over its team selection and the strategies.

Not taking the criticisms too seriously, the team management, however, has taken a ‘horses for courses’ approach, ensuring that it does not tweak the combination. Instead, in the auctions, it made some smart buys — snapping up Bangladesh all-rounder Shakib Al Hasan, Ben Cutting, India internationals Karun Nair and Harbhajan Singh at rather low prices. And the experts believe that the introduction of these three players could spice up the Knights line-up, which already has superstars in captain Eoin Morgan, Dinesh Karthik, Pat Cummins, Andre Russell and Sunil Narine.

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While Shakib — a former Knight — brings in that all-round balance to the squad, his bowling abilities could give Knights an additional advantage. Together with the seasoned Harbhajan, Shakib can form a lethal combination. Also if Varun Chakravarthy and Sunil Narine are fit, then this could be one of KKR’s all-time best department.

Having led Mumbai Indians in the past, Harbhajan Singh could offer astute captaincy support to Morgan, if needed.   -  K. Pichumani

 

However, for that to happen the franchise needs to get its strategies right. In the last couple of editions, the team management and the coaching unit had taken some baffling decisions, which ultimately cost the team dearly. So, as yet another season beckons, it is important that the decision makers take the right call.

For instance, in the 2019 edition, the team went on shuffling the batting slot for Russell — who is an undisputed match-winner. But surprisingly last year, when he clearly looked off colour, the team relied heavily on him to perform in crunch times. And those decisions certainly did KKR no good.

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So, even as fans expect the players to be more consistent this time around, it is important that KKR’s star-studded coaching set-up — spearheaded by Brendon McCullum — reacts to situations quickly.

This time, things would be slightly different with none of the eight franchises having a home advantage. Knights will play in Chennai, Mumbai, Ahmedabad and Bengaluru and would be hoping to start the tournament on a positive note.

KKR's Best buy of 2021

KKR played it smart in the auction by picking up Shakib Al Hasan for a mere ₹3.2 crore and Harbhajan Singh at his base price of ₹2 crore. Both of them have been match-winners and their experience will come in handy for the Knights. Having led Mumbai Indians in the past, Harbhajan could offer astute captaincy support to Morgan, if needed.

Last season, Knights replaced Karthik as the captain in the middle of the season, handing over the responsibility to Morgan — England’s World Cup-winning captain. Though that decision did not yield much result for the team, it certainly took the pressure off Karthik. And ahead of this season, the erstwhile captain is looking forward to spending more time at the crease and converting good starts into big scores.

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“For me, it will be about spending a little more time at the crease. It is important that I get through the first five-eight balls and then launch into aggression mode, that’s something I will definitely look forward to,” Karthik says. The fans would definitely want that to happen.

KKR is not a franchise that loves experimenting too much and if there is no major change in the tale, Shubman Gill will open the innings with either Karthik or Nitish Rana. With Morgan and Russell in the middle order, KKR will be hoping to make the most of it. Shakib’s presence will be a huge boost.

Ideal Playing XI

Shubman Gill, Dinesh Karthik, Karun Nair/Rahul Tripathi, Nitish Rana, Andre Russell, Eoin Morgan, Sunil Narine/Shakib Al Hasan, Pat Cummins, Harbhajan Singh/Varun Chakravarthy, Prasidh Krishna, Kamlesh Nagarkoti.